Travel Industry Wakes Up To Needs of Female Business Travelers

By Lindsey Townsend

Next time you’re sitting on a plane waiting for takeoff, take a peek around you at the business travelers. Chances are you’ll see almost as many women as men engrossed in their work, poring over notes or polishing presentations.

Today’s female business traveler is racking up more frequent flyer miles than ever before-and the travel industry is finally beginning to pay attention to their needs. “Women now represent more than 40% of business travelers and are the fastest-growing segment of that population,” says Cathy Keefe, public relations manager for the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). Women are more likely than men to travel for a meeting, convention, or trade show; and the number of women business travelers in the finance, banking and real estate sector is increasing steadily.

The Executive Women’s Travel Network estimates that women now spend $175 billion on 14 million business trips annually. To capture some of those valuable travel dollars, hotel chains such as Wyndham Hotels & Resorts have begun catering to working women.

In 1995, in response to market research which indicated that women would soon represent 50% of their business traveler customer base,Wyndham launched a program called Women On Their Way. Based on comments from an Advisory Board formed to track female business travel trends and independent research, Wyndham added innovations requested by women such as premium bed linens, ironing boards, Bath and Body Works bath products, skirt hangers, and light and healthy room service menu items. “Our mission is to really listen and respond to women business travelers by establishing an ongoing dialogue with them,” says Cary Jehl Broussard, vice president of marketing.

Wyndham is now expanding the program by offering access to manicurists and personal shoppers and trainers. “There’s a trend towards seeking out ways to comfort yourself while you’re traveling, whether it’s searching out the chain with the most comfortable bed or pampering yourself with a manicure or a massage while traveling,” says Broussard. “Women will take an extra hour while on the road--that they may not have on the Saturday they return home--to pamper or comfort themselves.”

Reducing Traveling Hassles

While most professionals say they enjoy the opportunity to get out of the home office, meet new people, and see another city during a business trip, traveling often makes for a long and tiring day.

Diane Weldin, senior director of CHR Marketing Solutions in Dallas, travels often to report to senior management on project results and visit clients. “Since airlines frequently overbook flights, I always get to the airport early and keep my cell phone handy and charged up, so I can rebook cancelled flights if necessary,” she says. Weldin suggests dressing in microfibers that don’t wrinkle and resisting the temptation to overpack. “Use a rolling bag and travel light! I typically wear a black knit dress and change jackets for a different look the second day. And I usually leave the laptop in the office unless I need it for a presentation or will be gone more than three days,” she says.

Whenever she travels, veteran traveler Camille Keith, vice president of marketing for Southwest Airlines, brings along a bag packed with an emergency change of clothes, makeup, and toothpaste, along with a one-page summary of her trip itinerary. “It contains all my travel information-flight times, confirmation numbers, phone numbers of people I will see when I get there. I leave a copy of it with my home office, too,” she says.

Female Business Travelers Now Commonplace

The good news is that--unlike 20 or 30 years ago--women business travelers are no longer as unusual as snow in Texas in July. When Joy Perkins, now a manager of learning with Acclivus Corporation in Dallas, began flying for business early in her career, “I was usually the only woman on the plane wearing a suit,” she remembers.

She cites two major trends that have made business travel easier for women: the birth of the lobby bar and the rise in mobile communications. “Years ago the only option for a woman who wanted a little downtime was to go into a dark, smoke-filled sports bar packed with men,” she explains. “Now you can sit comfortably in an upscale hotel lobby bar and have a drink if you want, without being hassled.” The increase in mobile technology also brings another advantage besides accessibility to the home office, Perkins points out. “It used to be just you, out there by yourself on the road and maybe feeling kind of vulnerable,” Perkins observes. “But now everyone has a mobile phone and a laptop--which creates this invisible shield around you that says ‘don’t bother me--I’m working.’”

Southwest’s Keith, who has observed business travel trends for 30 years, agrees the changes are for the better. “There’s been a profound shift in the industry. So many female travelers today are professionals--CPAs, consultants, attorneys--that now it’s very common to see a woman sitting in a hotel lobby, eating alone, working on their laptops, or reading a book.”

Despite that new acceptance level, there’s still no protection against tornadoes in Texas, ice in Chicago and hurricanes in Honolulu. So the next time you find yourself stranded at the airport, keep in mind that you can join most airline clubs for around $50. It won’t get you home any sooner, but a comfy chair, a good steak, and a glass of merlot may help ease your pain. If nothing else, it will help you cool your heels in style!

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(SIDEBAR 1)
Safety a Top Concern for Female Travelers

Traveling unfamiliar roads and getting lost in a bad part of town; waiting alone at midnight for a taxicab, walking in a dark, deserted parking lot…safety concerns are real for women on the road. As a result, many businesswomen place safety at the top of their priority list when they travel.

A 1999 study by the Businesswomen’s Research Institute found that women look for hotels with a good location, onsite security guards and airport shuttles. The top-rated hotels in the survey were the Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Ritz Carlton. “Most hotels nowadays have very good security and coded keys, but there are still certain precautions I always recommend. Don’t get into an elevator with just one man in it; don’t park in a dark area; don’t give your room number to anyone; and avoid rooms at the end of a hall,” says Southwest’s Keith. If you’re heading out in an unfamiliar city, it’s also a good idea to ask the hotel concierge or hotel desk staff which areas to avoid.

One of the things that women dislike the most when it comes to travel is renting a car. A survey by Total Research Corp. found that more than 80% of women surveyed worried about personal safety when renting a car. Their top concerns? Poorly-lit parking lots and long waits for shuttle buses, especially at night. “If you’re flying in or out of your home airport late at night, leave the car at home and take a cab so you can avoid walking in parking lots or dark garages,” suggests WBENC’s Bari. “Also, pack light and have wheeled luggage that you can handle yourself when necessary.”

(SIDEBAR 2)
Online Passports Reduce Paperwork Pain

Congratulations: you’re taking your first international business trip. You’ve booked a hotel on the way, reserved a car, confirmed your flight…oops, now where is that passport, again? And what about a visa?

With 20 million Americans now traveling abroad every year, there has been a recent boom in the visa expediting service industry, which can help travelers obtain international travel documents in days instead of months.

That’s a plus for corporate travelers, who often travel on short notice and are the most frequent users of visa services, according to Julie Harris, owner of Houston-based Passports, Etc., a visa and passport expediting service. Her firm handles a number of travel services, including procurement of first-time passports, passport renewals, lost or stolen passports, name changes, tourist and business visa, translations, and birth certificates “Our busiest department is visas, because a passport is valid for 10 years, and you can use the same passport in every country you visit. But there is a different visa for every country,” she says.

Passports Etc. is now positioning itself as a leading Internet resource for international travel documentation. In just three clicks using an Internet browser, travelers can eliminate the wasted time and confusion often associated with the process of applying for international documents.For more information, visit their website at www.passportsetc.com.

Online travel planning, along with electronic ticketing, is also becoming more popular. A recent report released by the TIA found that 52 million people used the Internet for online travel planning in 1999, an increase of 54% from 1998. On-line bookings are also increasing. More than 16 million people made online travel reservations in 1999-an increase of 146% from 1998.

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